Nine Common Cold and Flu Prevention Tips

Follow these recommendations from a medical expert to reduce your chances of getting sick this cold and flu season


Kids washing their hands for cold and flu prevention | HealthFit Family MedicineYou know cold and flu season is here when you start to feel surrounded by a chorus of sneezes and coughs. There are things you can do to make sure you are not amplifying the noise. Here are my nine common cold and flu prevention tips to keep you and your family healthy. Follow these at home, in the office and especially while traveling.

1. Get the flu shot

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine every season. Vaccines are especially important for those who are at high risk for serious complications from influenza. The flu shot will help reduce the chances that you get the flu, but if you do get it, the symptoms may be milder.

Good news, the “pinch” of the shot does not also have to hurt your wallet. The Affordable Care Act requires healthcare insurers to pay for patients’ flu shots without them needing to make a copayment.

2. Lather up

The gold standard for cold or flu prevention is washing your hands after you touch any communal surfaces and before you eat. While washing your hands, make sure to do it right and lather up for 15-20 seconds, which is as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Also be sure to get under your fingernails to remove any possible germs. If you are in a public space, turn off the faucet and open the door with a paper towel so you do not get germs on your hands while leaving the bathroom.

For the times that you cannot make it to a sink, it is helpful to carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for on-the-go use. But hand sanitizers should not replace washing your hands if a sink is nearby.

3. Watch your fingers

Hopefully you are following tip # 2 and washing your hands, but even with a good routine there are still times that germs will end up on your fingers and hands. It is important to keep your hands and fingers away from your face, especially the nose, mouth and eye. Just touching a contaminated surface will not give you the flu, but those flu germs can infect you if your fingers touch an opening on your face.

4. Exercise

I know it is no longer swimsuit season and bundling up under a warm blanket sounds much better than making it to the gym, but moderate exercise is a proven immune booster. I recommend a 45-minute walk or something similar five times a week for cold and flu prevention.

Exercising can boost your immunity by:

  • Raising your body temperature, which may help the body fight infection.
  • Slowing down the release of stress hormones.
  • Causing changes in antibodies and white blood cells.
  • Flushing out bacteria from the lungs and airways.

5. Get the right nutrients

A diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits is helpful to boost the immune system and reduce the chances of getting a cold or flu. Flu and cold season runs in tandem with a lot of holidays that include sweets, so it is key to reduce your sugar intake and include vegetables in every meal.

It is also helpful to take vitamins that can help boost the immune system such as vitamins C and D, which are helpful in strengthening the immune system. Staying hydrated is also helpful and can be accomplished by drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day.

6. Make sure to catch your ZZZ’s

According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is recommended to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. During this time your body can recuperate from daily exposure to toxins. When your body sleeps it also releases cytokines, proteins that helps fight infection by regulating the immune system.

7. Reduce your stress

Stress is known to suppress your immune system. Some ways to reduce your stress include yoga, meditation or acupuncture. Cortisol, a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, helps the body fight inflammation and diseases.

8. Disinfect everything

A flu virus can remain viable for 24 hours outside of a person’s body. That is why it is a good rule during flu season to clean all communal surfaces at least once a day. This is a good tip to follow regardless of whether anyone in your household or office is sick.

9. Keep your distance for cold and flu prevention

If you see someone who is coughing or sneezing, stay at least three feet away from them. That is the distance that the flu virus can spread before gravity takes over. This includes distance from your kids and significant other. While I know you cannot leave them all alone, it is helpful to wear surgical gloves and a face mask when caring for a loved one who is sick. If you are not prepared to suit up at home, the next best option is washing your hands frequently when around anyone with the flu.

I know it may be difficult, but keep your lips off an infected partner or child. You might also want to consider having your own bed during this time to avoid the spread of germs that can live on the blankets and pillow.

You still might get the flu or common cold

Not to be a downer, but you could follow these tips and still end up with the cold or flu. If that does happen, it is important to know when to turn self-care into going to the doctor. It is time to go to the doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Your fever won’t go away.
  • You cannot keep anything down.
  • You can’t get rid of your cough.
  • It hurts to swallow.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • Your congestion and headache won’t go away.